Recognition of the Human Right to Water: Has the Tide Turned?
Gerber, P. and Chen, B., 'Recognition of the human right to water: has the tide turned?' (2011) 36(1) Alternative Law Journal 2
10 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2013
Date Written: 2011
Unlike the right to food and housing, the right to water was not expressly acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (‘UDHR’) or the subsequent International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (‘ICESCR’). This omission generated debate about whether a human right to water exists at international law.
Because a right to water was not expressly mentioned in ICESCR, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (‘ESC Committee’), in 2003, published General Comment 15 which recognised the existence of a right to water as part of the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 11), and the right to the highest attainable standard of health (Article 12). However, this General Comment generated significant criticism, with some scholars arguing that the ESC Committee, in inferring the right to water, had exceeded its authority, was acting on its own revisionist views, and had done so without sound legal basis.
However, the debate about the existence of a human right to water is now at an end. In a landmark resolution, the UN General Assembly, unanimously adopted the Declaration on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation on 26 July 2010. That this resolution was passed without any votes against it, strongly suggests that the existence of a right to water is now recognised as being part of the body of international human rights law albeit in the form of a non-binding declaration.
This article briefly examines the history of the right to water before undertaking a detailed analysis of this new UN Declaration, and the circumstances in which it was proclaimed. The authors conclude that the tide has turned for the human right to water: it is now recognised as part of international human rights law. However, the challenge of defining the precise content of the right remains.
Keywords: Human Rights, UDHR, International Law, Water, Right to water, UN, United Nations, Declaration
JEL Classification: K00, K33, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation